Inviting Orioles for Summer Dining

Inviting Orioles for Summer Dining

by Sandy Swegel

This is the best time of the year.  Summer Harvest is coming in strong.  Cherry tomatoes and grilled marinated zucchini make wonderful summer suppers followed by fresh cherries and peaches.  A bottle of cold Prosecco and French brie and a couple of friends make for lovely summer evenings.  The only thing needed is the entertainment.  Hummingbirds are a favorite to watch buzzing in as dusk falls.  Mind you there is a garden full of flowers planted just for hummingbirds, but the little darlings are just like humans…who wants good healthy food when you can have dessert: some fresh sugar water in the colorful plastic feeder.  We put the feeder quite close to the picnic table so we could see the hummers coming to feed.  But last week there was a big surprise.  Something had pecked out the cute little openings on the feeder and drained it dry.  At first, I had unkind thoughts about the neighborhood squirrels, but then, the evening’s star performers appeared, a pair of bright orange Orioles.  What a perfect accompaniment to dinner with friends.

Now everyone wanted their own Orioles.  Turns out they’ve always lived here in the big cottonwood trees along creeks. But we learned what every midwesterner apparently knows.  If you want Orioles, you put out orange pieces and grape jelly.  The grape jelly is the guaranteed winner.  We heard stories from Wisconsin cousins that they can’t even buy grape jelly in the store right now because everyone is buying it for the Orioles.  Ahhh, our songbird overlords.  But they are lovely dinner companions.

Enjoy the summer harvest and invite friends over.  You’ve worked hard all season for this.  Lean back and watch both human and avian friends dine on your deck! Life is good.

photo credit:

http://www.duncraft.com/Oriole-Fest-and-Orange-Swirl-Guard

 

 

 

 

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My Squash is Wilting

by Sandy Swegel

Eww…Yet another bug thriving this year and ruining my food.  Most of us have experienced our squashes suffering from powdery mildew that coats the leaves white, but knowledgeable gardeners are perplexed here in Colorado by squash that suddenly completely wilts and dies.

Turns out if the squash is wilting it’s often due to a very small bug, the squash bug, that injects a nasty venom into the stems wilting and killing the entire vine.

“Can’t we just all get along?” I holler at them.  There’s an entire large squash plant and I’m willing to share with bugs….but the squash bug wants it all.

This is a pest you need to be aggressive with if you see it because it doesn’t share but will kill your whole plant given a chance. Look for the adult bug (looks a bit like a stink bug) or nymph (distinctive antenna and small head) and kill it (take a small bucket of soapy water into the garden with you and throw the bugs in, to drown them, if you don’t want to ‘squash’ them). More importantly look for the eggs on the underside of leaves and crush them.  Handpicking works well in a small garden if you’re vigilant.

 

We have to stand our ground against creatures like the squash bug. I explain it to them as I dunk them in the soapy water or throw them to my chickens….if you don’t share and play well with others, you lose your privileges in my garden!

For more info:
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05609.html
Photo credit: http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/4h/default.php?page=snr40&stage=larva

 

 

 

Grow Your Own Food: Best Return on Investment.

by Sandy Swegel

There are so many vegetables you can grow in your garden. If only there was enough time. If you have limited time or space for your garden, think about what is the best return on your investment of time and money as well as the best outcome of flavor and nutrition.  Three things I grow even if I don’t have time to grow anything else are:

Salad greens. Loose-leaf lettuces, spinach, kale, chard, and arugula are up and ready to eat in as little as three weeks after planting.  You can pick what you need for tonight’s salad, and let the plant continue to grow for another night’s salad.  Baby greens and mixed lettuces cost $6 per pound add up at the grocery…and they aren’t necessarily that fresh…sometimes they’ve been traveling in a semi-trailer from California for a week already.  Grow your own greens to get maximum nutrition and taste for a couple of bucks worth of seed.

Tomatoes.  You’ve tasted one of those grocery store tomatoes that look perfect and taste like absolutely nothing?  Enough said. You have to grow tomatoes because homegrown tomatoes taste so much better than anything you can buy.  But tomatoes have also gotten really expensive.  One or two tomato plants easily save you a couple hundred dollars if you regularly eat tomatoes in your salads and sandwiches.  Cherry tomato plants are especially prolific.

Herbs. Fresh herbs are the best way to give oomph to your cooking.  They taste so much better than dried herbs and can often star in a simple dish …such as a basil leaves served with mozzarella and tomato.  Many herbs are perennial (like thyme and oregano) and only have to be planted once.  Annual herbs such as basil and dill produce lots and lots of flavorful leaves.

It’s always fun to grow your own food and everything there is to grow, but if you’re strapped for time or space, let the local farmers grow the long-season crops like winter squash, the root crops like onions and carrots, or the water-hogging melons.  You’ll be enjoying your own magnificent home-grown healthful salads all season.

Expand Your Vegetable Garden the Easy Way

by Sandy Swegel

Two forces collided around the kitchen table this week.  First I was oogling our seed catalog and indulging in winter snow day daydreams about summer gardens and how I might turn my tiny urban yard into a farm so I could grow one of everything. At that moment I wanted to be surrounded by beautiful shiny vegetables. Then the second force came.  I went grocery shopping for my favorite winter recipe:  a very simple roasted winter vegetable dish with squash and sweet potatoes and beets, marinated in olive oil and rosemary. Yum. The winter squash was even on sale.  Then sticker shock hit. A single large winter squash was $5, even on sale!

The force of wanting to buy more seed collided with the force of not wanting to pay retail prices for food.  The only natural outcome is I have to find more space to garden so I can plant more squash.

It’s too late for any of the summer or fall garden expansion methods of either tilling in land or doing some lasagna gardening.  So I will use the easy method my urban farmer friend Barbara taught me.  Out in a neglected corner of the yard where there’s just some old grass, I’ll dig a shallow hole next May and fill it to an overflowing mound with a bucket of compost.  I’ll plant squash seeds there and cover the surrounding grass with cardboard.  The squash plants will grow over the cardboard as it takes another year to make good garden soil underneath.  I can drape the burgeoning squash plants over the fence and maybe up an old ladder onto the shed roof. (I did mention the tiny yard, didn’t I?)  But the key to expanding my garden this way is that I’m not doing all the heavy work of putting in a new 10 x 10 garden bed for squash.  The squash roots and cardboard are going to help do that.  My yield won’t be as high this year as a full amended composted garden, but then the work will be almost nothing to grow a lot of $5 squash for the price of $1.89 seed packet.

The key to baking yummy winter vegetables is to cut them in 1-1/2 inch pieces, marinate them in olive oil, salt and rosemary, and bake them on flat cookie sheets.  The flat baking sheet is crucial to the outcome because then the sides of the vegetable get a nice crisp roasted texture.  Here’s a more formal recipe:

Recipe:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-winter-vegetables-recipe/index.html

A Gift for Wild Animals

by Sandy Swegel

After the first big cold snow of the season, I find myself drinking coffee next to the window, captivated by the Wild Kingdom drama of the outdoors…watching the many different kinds of birds foraging or lurking near the bird feeder waiting their turn, or hearing the rustling of unknown small furry creatures in the garden debris.

The best gift for wild animals is a heated bird bath.  I might even put two out, one on the deck rail for the birds and one on the ground in a wild area for all the other thirsty creatures…rabbits, squirrels and even the field mice. When it’s super cold like it is now, snow doesn’t melt and there are no natural water sources near my house.  Maybe a water source will keep the squirrels from eating holes in my irrigation pipes.

Holiday Shopping List for all the Animals in Your Life

Dogs:  Plump baby carrots are the gift of choice for my dogs.   I had to fence off the main garden from their enthusiastic digging, but I leave an area of little round carrots and beets for them to “discover.” Cats:   Catnip of course. Don’t waste your time on anything else. Chickens:  Swiss Chard is my chickens’ most favorite food. I think they like its natural saltiness. I throw bags of dried leaves on the garden bed as insulation just so I can harvest some greens from under the bags all winter. Wild birds:  Sunflower Seeds naturally…and any seeds. I discovered dozens of little birds the other day in the snow in a patch of lambsquarter and tall weeds that I had foolishly allowed to go to seed. Bees:  Wildflower seeds of course. Rabbits:  A wild clover patch, anything green. Field Mice:  Any seeds left to fall on the ground.  Overgrown zucchini and pumpkins left to rot. Squirrels:  Pumpkins.  The Halloween pumpkin left out is the perfect squirrel buffet. Owls, hawks:  Any of the above-mentioned seeds left in the garden bring the mice and voles and other rodents that are the perfect gift for the birds of prey.  The rodents double as gifts for the snakes. Soil microbes: What else but moo poo tea is the ideal gift for the soil Earthworms:  Make them a compost pile.  And forget to harvest some of the root vegetables. As the vegetables decompose in place in early spring, hundreds of hungry earthworms show up for the feast. Humans:  All the vegetables are the perfect gift of health and vitality for the humans in your life, especially when packaged with the love you grew them with.

I wish to all this Winter:  abundant food and water and a warm place for all good creatures.

Photo Credit:

http://birdsandbloomsblog.com/2013/11/09/winter-bird-bath-tips/

http://dipperanch.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-last-purple-rattlesnake.html

After the Hail

by Sandy Swegel

“Gardening in Colorado sucks” is how my friend described her garden after a violent storm full of hail and tornadoes passed through the towns east of Boulder this week.  Much more vivid expletives were used by all as we surveyed the destruction brought by 2-1/2 inches of rain in less than a half hour and hail that had to be cleared by snow plows.  We were actually quite lucky.  Tornado sirens were going off all over town, but there weren’t many touchdowns.

But the garden is devastated.  Well, let me correct that. The xeric plants are doing fine.  They are thin-leaved and flexible and have adapted to millennia of hail on the high plains. Russian sage and grasses and Liatris look great. Cactus definitely didn’t care.  But the plants we love in our yards: the roses and deciduous trees had their leaves shredded by the hail and broken by the winds.  Thank God we don’t rely on our vegetable gardens as our only source of food.  Corn was broken, squash stems were ripped and shredded.  The zucchini has so many stems and leaves, it will survive, but we can forget winter squash and watermelons and pumpkins.

So what can a gardener do after hail? We cowered in our houses as tornado sirens wailing “Get to shelter immediately.” Unlike Dorothy and Auntie Em in the tornado shelter, we were in furnished basements with our wireless devices googling for webcams of what was going on outside. But once we emerged, the response was pretty much the same.  “Holy xxxx”

After the storm, gardeners have to take it easy.  Remove the huge broken branches to the curb. Clean up fallen leaves.  Get your roof patched.  But don’t start cutting back the garden.  Plants are going to need whatever leaves they have left to photosynthesize for the rest of the season.  Take a day or two off so you don’t overreact.  I spent hours picking up debris and cutting stems that were completely broken.

Perennials:  do as little as possible to let leaves keep making food.

Annuals:  Cut back broken parts of flowers like snapdragons and cosmos.  Leave trailing things like sweet potato vines be for a week or so. They will often make new leaves at each node.

Shrubs:  Cut broken parts and let them be.  Like trees, they will start putting out new leaves.  I’m not completely convinced fertilizing helps now because it will stimulate new growth.  I’ll do regular fall fertilizing with a slow-release natural fertilizer.

Trees:  The trees have had such a hard year.  They struggled with late frosts this spring that killed off their first set of leaves and they had to generate a second set of leaves.  Now the hail means they’ll start growing a third set of leaves.  They will really use their food reserves.  I hope it’s not a hard winter.  When the tree dies a year or two from now, we often forget that it was the hail this year that helped do them in.

About the only other thing to do besides keep filling the compost bins is to make sure everything is well watered and mulched going into winter. Don’t pull out plants that look dead…their capacity for regeneration is amazing.

Well, there is one more thing to do:  heal the gardener’s soul by planting some new plants to bring hope and beauty back into the landscape.

My Squash is Wilting

by Sandy Swegel

Eww…Yet another bug thriving this year and ruining my food.  Most of us have experienced our squashes suffering from powdery mildew that coats the leaves white, but knowledgeable gardeners are perplexed here in Colorado by squash that suddenly completely wilts and die (Asana wilt).

Turns out squash is wilting often due to a very small bug, the squash bug, that injects a nasty venom into the stems wilting and killing the entire vine.

“Can’t we just all get along?” I holler at them.  There’s an entire large squash plant and I’m willing to share with bugs….but the squash bug wants it all.

This is a pest you need to be aggressive with if you see it because it doesn’t share but will kill your whole plant given a chance. Look for the adult bug (looks a bit like a stink bug) or nymph (distinctive antenna and small head) and kill it (take a small bucket of soapy water into the garden with you and throw the bugs in, to drown them, if you don’t want to ‘squash’ them). More importantly, look for the eggs on the underside of leaves and crush them.  Handpicking works well in a small garden if you’re vigilant.

We have to stand our ground against creatures like the squash bug. I explain it to them as I dunk them in the soapy water or throw them to my chickens….if you don’t share and play well with others, you lose your privileges in my garden!

For more info http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05609.html

 http://extension.entm.purdue.edu/4h/default.php?page=snr40&stage=larva

Too Many Zucchini? Eat the Flowers.

by Sandy Swegel

The zucchini in our garden is just starting, so there’s not too much of it yet.  So far, it’s still a nice dish to have sauteed or lightly grilled zucchini and yellow squash.  But I know the day will be here soon when there’s too much zucchini for any normal person. There’s one really good way to avoid too many zucchinis:  eat the flowers. New flowers form right away so you don’t have to worry about not having enough zucchini.

I first learned about eating squash blossoms from my friend Alfredo who grew up on a ranch in Mexico. Squash blossoms were one of his favorite foods as a kid so his eyes still light up when he sees the bright yellow flowers. Squash are ready in Spring in warm Mexico so he remembered eating flores de calabaza stuffed with cheese, breaded and fried for the Cinco de Mayo holiday.  Yum.

Here are some popular ways to eat squash blossoms:

Mexican Squash Blossom Quesadillas You saute the squash blossoms with the onions and peppers to make a great quesadilla filling.  And you get to use LOTS of squash blossoms because they cook down so much.

Batter-fried Squash Blossoms Dip into a flour batter and fry. Crispy and flavorful.

Squash Blossom Frittata Another good use for all those eggs from backyard chickens.

Stuffed Squash Blossoms Squash are great for stuffing.  Stuff them and then pan fry or deep fry them. Good stuffing variations are goat cheese and fresh herbs or sauteed mushroom, onion, garlic and ricotta.

Here are more details on five recipes you can experiment with. http://www.seasonalchef.com/recipe0805b.htm

The absolute cutest squash blossom recipe is one that waits till small yellow squash are formed but before the blossom falls off before taking the flower. It’s a great Cajun recipe that pairs the squash with catfish.  Down South, there are about as many catfish as there are squash….so it’s a great way to use the abundance of fish and food! And so many good Louisiana recipes are just an excuse to eat stuffing!

http://rvcooking.cajunville.com/?p=3161

First Frost: Is There Still Time?

by Sandy Swegel

Frost?  Are you crazy some might say? We’re finally hitting 90 degrees and the tomatoes are starting to grow. And you’re thinking about frost? But this isn’t about the last frost in the Spring…it’s about the first frost in the Fall.  Knowing when the first frost is, is how you know if you have enough time.  I’ve gotten behind in my planting and I really wanted winter squash this year.  Do I still have time to plant or has procrastination done me in this year? How about you? Do you still have time to plant the long-season crop you wanted?

There are two things we need to know: • What is the time to maturity of seeds you’re thinking of planting? • What is your area’s first frost average?

How Many Days to Maturity? The seeds I’m thinking about are the Hubbard Squash, a good meaty winter squash that’s perfect for baking.  The packet says it takes 105 – 115 days to mature and 5 – 12 days to germinate. So I’m going to assume the best case scenario….that I can use the heating pad to get the squash to germinate in just 2 days and then add 105 days till I get my first mature squash.  Delusional, I know.  Nevertheless, at the minimum, I need 107 days to make one winter squash. Today is June 3rd..  107 days from now is September 18th. (What? Summer Vacation will be over before I get squash?!)

When is First Frost? Now I check out my favorite, if obtuse, data chart from NOAA and find out there’s a 50% chance of 32 degrees occurring here in Boulder by October 8th.   There’s a 10% percent chance of freeze occurring by September 20 but I’m going to go the optimist’s route  (and keep the bed sheets ready in case I have to cover the entire plant one night) and say “YES!…I have time to get some winter squash ripe this year.”  Some years we have one night of frost and then weeks of warm weather.  I may not get many squashes that have time to ripen. I should have planted earlier. But still! For the dates for your area, here’s the chart:http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/freezefrost/freezefrost.pdf

Wow, it is later than I think. Gardening is the greatest challenge to the procrastinator…Mother Nature just hates being rushed. Still, I’m relying on her benevolence to give me a strong productive plant and a warm fall so I can enjoy my favorite roasted winter squash this year.

Succession Planting ~ Part 2

Last week I talked about Succession Planting by using varieties that have different times to maturity. There are two more easy kinds of Succession Planting you can use to you have a steady source of the best-tasting food and to make the best use of your space.

Plant the same crop at intervals.

The seed packet again gives you the information you need.  It says things like “plant at two-week intervals.” This is a great idea for crops like lettuces and carrots and beets or similar crops that just taste best when young.  If you plant all your carrots at once, you’ll have nice young carrots mid-season but by the end of the season, you’ll be pulling big gnarly carrots out of the ground.  Sometimes these can taste great and sometimes they get too woody.   Likewise, you’re going to want to have fall carrots because they get so sweet when the weather gets cooler.  If you planted all your carrots in May, you’re either going to run out of them, or the stress they went through during the heat of summer will have made them tough.

I help myself remember to plant at intervals by picking specific calendar dates. I pick the 1st and the 15th of each month as days to plant again.

Plant two or more crops in succession.

This technique is especially good for people with limited space or who practice square-foot gardening.  You start a cool season crop such as greens or radishes in an area. When they are ready, you harvest and eat them, and then you plant a summer crop such as corn or beans in that spot.  It’s like having twice the garden space. Sometimes I’ll “interplant” crops such as green onions or carrots and tomatoes.  Tomato plants stay small until the heat of summer kicks in, so I’ll plant green onions and carrots in front of the tomato plants.  By the time the tomatoes start to get really big, I will have already harvested the onions and carrots and the tomatoes have lots of room.  The more things that are planted and growing in an area, the fewer weeds you’ll have to pull.  And that’s always a good thing. So keep an eye out…if you’re pulling up a crop that’s finished, plant something new.

Crops to plant every two weeks:

Beans Carrots Corn Green Onions  Lettuce Spinach

Crops to plant one after the other:

Peas followed by Corn Radish followed by Zucchini Green Onions followed by Peppers Cilantro followed by Beans